Here’s a stellar scam idea: Pretend to be a grandmother, claiming your daughter and granddaughter went missing in the Costa Concordia wreckage off the coast of Italy. Then, send a “boyfriend” to a savvy New York lawyer to tell the story, and then change that story as many times as possible. Finally, have a 5-year-old blow your entire cover.
This story played out as the first officially reported false claim of death from the disaster. A Hungarian woman allegedly emailed Peter Ronai, a New York personal-injury lawyer who was already representing six Hungarian survivors from the liner. The email claimed that the woman’s daughter, Eva, and 5-year-old granddaughter were missing from the ship. The emailer wanted Ronai to meet with Eva’s boyfriend to discuss what to do. According to the New York Daily News, the Italian media had accused the liner of carrying stowaways, so the fact that the mother and daughter were not on the “manifest” list of passengers did not count them out.
Ronai, who was in Budapest, met with the alleged boyfriend — and then the story kept changing. The boyfriend apparently called the next day to say the granddaughter was not missing, blaming a misunderstanding. When Ronai asked to speak to the 5-year-old, the girl said she had seen her “mommy” that day, at the park on the swings. Then, Ronai told ABC News that the “missing mom” showed up and changed her story. No longer was she possibly dead — she was simply injured when jumping from the cruise ship, but showed no signs of pain.
Ronai says the pair confessed to pulling the scam to make money. Police arrested them; Ronai told ABC that they were not taken to jail, but they will now face criminal charges.
The Hungarian Foreign Ministry issued a statement confirming the incident. “Based on officially confirmed information today it has become clear that claims about the missing woman were unfounded,” the statement read.
“People will do horrible things for money,” Ronai said. And this may just be the first in a list of unsettling stories.